Academia has neglected philanthropy but the tide is turning

Judith Symonds

For a sector that has a real and verifiable impact on so many of the historical and contemporary challenges facing society, philanthropy may be one of the least researched and understood fields in contemporary life. It is trapped in an environment of undocumented clichés and misperceptions, due in part to dysfunctional tensions that remain between academia and practitioner experts.

Why teach philanthropy?

Nearly ten years ago, as a philanthropy and public affairs professional, living in France, I decided that there was a need for a course in philanthropy to promote the growth of civic engagement and encourage the development and professionalization of philanthropy in France and in Europe. I proposed a course, New Philanthropy and Social Investment, to the ESSEC Masters of Business Administration. This course went on to be the starting point for France’s only chair in philanthropy, currently housed at ESSEC Business School.

Since 2010, I have created and taught a selection of masters-level courses in this field at Sciences Po in Paris. The longer I teach citizen engagement and philanthropy, purposely linked together, the stronger is my conviction that doing so is essential, especially in the context of the ‘shrinking space for civil society’ and growing awareness that new models are needed for an equitable and sustainable future.

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